A PERSONAL ANNIVERSARY OF SORTS
Fourteen years ago today [December 5th] I was introduced to the diocese as its future bishop. I drove over from Miami where I was a pastor the day before the public announcement and stopped along the way in Venice where the Florida bishops were meeting at the time. They already had been informed by the papal nuncio of the announcement so they welcomed me as a future brother in the episcopal ministry of the state. Archbishop Favalora was in Miami, Bishop Symons was in Palm Beach, Bishop Dorsey was in Orlando, Bishop Nevins was in Venice, Bishop Snyder was in St. Augustine and Bishop Mort Smith was in Pensacola-Tallahassee. I mention their names because only the Archbishop and I remain among the active bishops fourteen years later. I was accompanied on the trip by one of my best priest friends from Miami, Monsignor Jude O’Doherty. After the brief stop in Venice and the warning, “you have no idea what you are getting yourself into” we entered the car and continued north to St. Petersburg. It was all very hush, hush and I had to sneak in under the cloak of darkness. Having been given the wrong directions of where to exit I-275 for Clearwater and the residence of Bishop Larkin, my hiding place for the night, I made my first accidental trip to Tampa before making a U-Turn back to the Pinellas side of the Howard Franklin. One wag said to me, “lost from the first moment in the diocese.”
We met Bishop Larkin, Monsignor Muldoon, and Monsignor Dee, I think, and went to dinner at Heilman’s. No member of the media found me that night and the press conference the next morning was my official introduction through the media to the people of the diocese and area. Mike Wilson of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES the previous Sunday had been tipped off that an announcement was coming on Tuesday and had written an article listing his three top choices for the appointment and I was one of those he chose.
It was all rather scary, that first day, meeting so many people from the staff, visiting my Cathedral for the first time and what was to be my residence, and talking about the ordination/installation Mass. I was the first bishop of the four in the history of the diocese to be ordained here as both Archbishop Favalora and Bishop McLaughlin came as bishops already and Bishop Larkin was ordained in Rome by his graduate school classmate, Pope John Paul II.
Exhausted, Monsignor O’Doherty and I drove back to Miami in the late afternoon with memories swirling and anxiety rising (at least speaking for myself).
You welcomed me that day and have ever since. You patiently tolerated my weaknesses and have always encouraged me in my ministry. I will let January 26th, 2010 my fourteenth anniversary, pass unnoticed even though that is the official date of my ordination and installation and instead will pray for all of you today. My final surgery may occur as early as next week and I will let you know in this space when I know all the details. In the meantime, thanks for the memories thus far and prayers for all of us in the future.